Image by Matthias Müller via Flickr CC2.0

Image by Matthias Müller via Flickr CC2.0

Individuals who have been incarcerated have an overall shorter life expectancy than the average Canadian, as well as a far greater likelihood of dying due to an overdose. Authors of a new Canadian study believe the consistently high death rate, both while in custody and after release, suggests this is not simply a result of incarceration. They believe this population is most likely at a high risk due to complex social, behavioural, and medical factors.

The study is the first in Canada to examine mortality rates in this population, both during incarceration and after release. Researchers found that people who have been recently released from correctional facilities had a risk of dying from drug overdose that was 56 times greater than that of the general population. Additionally, their life expectancy was also shorter than the general population’s, by 10.6 years for women and 4.2 years for men. The authors believe there may be opportunities to intervene during incarceration to help prevent people from dying due to overdoses. These include better access to drug substitution therapies and treatment programs, overdose prevention training, and initiative to divert people from incarceration to treatment programs.


Fiona G. Kouyoumdjian, MD, PhD, Lori Kiefer, MD, MHSc, Wendy Wobeser, MD, MSc, Alejandro Gonzalez, BEng, MSc, Stephen W. Hwang, MD, MPH

Corresponding author:

Fiona Kouyoumdjian, Centre for Research on Inner City Health, St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, Ontario

Original paper, published on April 27, 2016 in CMAJ Open.